by Maureen Bowden
In a forgotten corner of Jodrell Bank, Center for
Astrophysics and Astronomy, a team of three cosmic
researchers inhabited a back room, cluttered with
dog-eared copies of Astronomy in the UK, out of
date volumes of New Scientist, and waste paper
bins overflowing with sandwich wrappers and two weeks’
editions of The Daily Mail.
It was here that Doctor Kathy Allan discovered that
Saturn had, not sixty-two, but sixty-three moons.
“What do you make of this, Jake?” she called to her
fellow team member and occasional lover, Doctor Jacob
Jake put down his iced doughnut, one of Nora, the
canteen manager’s specialities, and, still chewing,
examined Kathy’s data. “Jeez, Kath. It’s a moon: a
gaseous one if I’m not
wrong.” He hugged her. “Get on to
the Journal of the British Astronomical Society.
This is headline news. It could get you out of this
dump and on to The Sky at Night. You’ll be a
“That’s not all,” she said. “It’s sending out signals:
regular sound waves. Someone or something’s trying to
“Oh, come on, you two.” Professor Colin Goodall, known
not so affectionately as Know-all, lounged back
in his swivel chair with his feet on his desk. He
looked up from The Daily Mail crossword. “It’ll
be some zit-faced adolescent hacking into the computer
trying to make us look stupid: not difficult in your
Kathy ignored him. “I’m going to reply with a download
of a Beginner Reader and a book on English
grammar. Let’s see if we get a response.”
“Seven down,” Colin said. “A long shot for stargazers:
two words, twelve and four.”
“Astronomical odds,” Jake said. “Don’t you ever do any
“No, I’m the team leader. Don’t forget to mention me
when you make your claim to fame, Kathy, but keep
quiet about the little green men.” He screwed the
crossword page into a ball, aimed it at the least full
waste paper bin, and missed. “No snotty-nosed nerd
from a bed-sit in Brixton’s going to make a fool out
Kathy sent her English language lessons to Saturn’s
newfound moon. She then prepared a report of her
discovery, attached it to a covering email and
forwarded it to The Journal of the BAS.
“What are you going to call it?” Jake asked.
“Well, there’s a glut of Greek and Roman deities out
there so I’ll go Nordic and call it Odin.”
Next morning Kathy was already at her workstation with
a doughnut in her hand and a smile on her face when
Jake and Colin arrived. “They’ve replied,” she said.
“Who, the BAS?” Jake said. “That was quick.”
“No, the Odinians, and in perfect English.
He read the
screen. “Greetings. Thank you for your comprehensive
instructions regarding the symbols of your choice. We
will accommodate you by using them in all further
communications. Please send details of your world’s
social organisation. We can access your messages and
send our replies at the speed of light.”
Jake did a mental calculation. “From the vicinity of
Saturn that’s sixty-eight minutes one way.”
“Considerably less from a Brixton bed-sit,” Colin
said, “but of course they’ll need thinking time before
responding so don’t bother with a stop-watch.”
Kathy fought the urge to smack him. “Get your head out
of the tabloids and do your job, Know-all. The
are real. I’m sure of it.” She was already typing a
reply giving an outline of the world’s various
political systems, and she added, “How is your society
Two and a half hours later she received an answer. “We
choose the most intelligent among us to be our leaders
and we respect their decisions. It works.”
“If we did that I’d be in charge of the whole
shebang.” He added, “Fourteen minutes thinking time:
“Use a stop-watch, did you?” Jake asked.
Odinians asked for details of Earth’s cultural
accomplishments. Kathy sent them a recording of John
Lennon singing Imagine. They added a three-part
harmony and sent it back.
She sent them the text of The Tempest. Colin
laughed, “Oh, they’ll love that. We’ll hear the
applause all the way from Saturn. Not.”
“Just because you don’t appreciate Shakespeare it
doesn’t mean they won’t.”
“I do appreciate Shakespeare, my lass unparalleled. I
played Richard II in an Old Etonians production
back in the eighties, but I doubt ET and his chums
would demonstrate unbridled enthusiasm.”
“Because they didn’t go to Eton?”
“Because they don’t bloody exist. Young Master or
Mistress Hacker is extracting the urine.”
The Journal of the BAS
published Kathy’s report. She was nominated for the
prestigious Fowler Award, and Odin was
officially recognised as Saturn’s sixty-third moon.
The BBC invited her to appear on The Sky at Night
and the Prime Minister informed Jodrell Bank that he
wished to visit Professor Goodall’s team in order to
offer his congratulations. The cleaners and decorators
invaded the back room, emptied the waste paper bins,
removed the dog-eared magazines and painted the walls.
On the day of the ministerial visit Colin showed up in
a suit and tie for the first time in living memory and
placed an unread hardback edition of Stephen Hawking’s
A Brief History of Time on his desk.
A gaggle of guides, dignitaries and bodyguards
announced the great man’s arrival. They waited outside
Colin, Kathy and Jake’s domain, as he entered.
“Professor Goodall, I presume.” He offered his hand.
Colin shook it, “Honoured to meet you, Prime
“Oh, please don’t call me Prime Minister.”
“What shall we call you?”
“Call me Bob.”
Kathy interrupted the pleasantries with a yell,
“Yaaay! We’ve had another message from the Ods.”
said, “What are the odds?”
winked at his junior colleagues, ”Astronomical, I
Kathy’s patience with Know-all’s hacking
nonsense ran out and slammed the door. It was time the
Ods went public. “Not odds, Prime… sorry, Bob.
Ods: short for Odinians. We’ve
established contact with sentient beings on Odin
and that’s what we call them.”
Beads of sweat appeared on Call-Me-Bob’s brow.
He turned back to Colin. “Is this true, Professor?”
Colin shrugged, “Well, maybe. We’re not sure. It’s
probably a hoax.”
applied a virginal white handkerchief to the runnels
of perspiration and his equilibrium re-asserted
itself. “Splendid. I’ll see you guys later. Keep up
the good work.” He fled, and the guides, dignitaries
and bodyguards whisked him away.
Kathy scowled at the back of his retreating head. “I’m
not a guy. I don’t sit on a bonfire in November and I
don’t have a penis.”
“Neither does the bozo on the bonfire,” Colin said.
Jake grinned. “The one my younger brother and sister
made last year did. It was a corker, too.” He
details of a shared experience into Kathy’s ear. She
laughed and dug him in the ribs.
“Please, children,” Colin said, “show some decorum.
Now, what’s the latest hogwash from the hacker?”
“Sorry, Colin,” Jake said. “You’re wrong about them.
They’ve sent us something well beyond the scope of a
snotty-nosed, zit-faced IT prodigy.” He beckoned him
to the screen. “They’ve written a sequel to The
can’t read from computer screens,” Colin said. “They
give me a migraine. I need some thinking time.” He
yawned. “You two read it. You can give me a synopsis.
Keep it brief.” He loosened his tie, kicked Stephen
Hawking onto the floor, put his feet up on his desk
and closed his eyes.
The Ods had called their sequel The Calm
After the Storm. When they’d read it Jake said,
“Know-all has to concede this is the work of a high
intelligence. Even old Will wouldn’t have sniffed at
Kathy nodded. She interrupted Colin’s snores, “Wake
up. Thinking time’s over. You have to hear this.”
He opened one eye. “I’m listening. Fire away.”
She began, “After Prospero and the gang have cleared
off, Ariel visits Caliban in the old homestead and
boosts up the poor bugger’s self-image by pointing out
he’s not a monster, he’s a cracking specimen of young
belongs to a racial group that Prospero and his
reprobates had never encountered, so their response to
him had been typically parochial.”
“A post-imperial interpretation, then,” Colin said.
“May I continue?”
“Please, do. This is such stuff as dreams are made on,
is it not?”
shut up.” She continued. “Ariel tells Caliban to build
a boat that will take him to an inhabited island where
he’ll find companionship. He controls the wind and it
blows the boat safely to the island. The community
accept Caliban, with his sweet-talking ways, and Ariel
flies off. Job done.”
“The thing is,” Jake said, “the prose is as masterly
as the bard at his best. This is a work of art, Colin.
You can’t go on pretending the Ods don’t
Colin said. “If they do exist how do we handle it? I
need to think about this. You two clear off for a
while and give me some peace.”
Kathy said. “It’s past lunchtime. Let’s see what
Nora’s got on offer today, Jake.”
“Good idea, but before we go I want to send the Ods
some images so they know what we look like. We
should ask them to send us some of themselves.”
“We can download photos from our security files,”
Kathy said. “Is that okay with you, Colin?”
“Sure,” he said. He seemed preoccupied.
They sent their picture gallery to the Ods.
“We’re off to the canteen now,” Jake said. “Shall we
bring you something back?”
“No, thanks, not hungry.” That wasn’t like him. They
shrugged and left.
When he was alone, Colin seated himself at the computer
screen and composed a message to the Ods. “You
say your society works well because you have the most
intelligent people in charge. We don’t. Consequently,
our world is in a mess. Can you help?”
Two hours and sixteen minutes later he received a
reply, “We will take it under advisement.”
When Kathy and Jake returned Colin showed them his
message, and the Ods’ reply.
“Did you think they’d persuade the human race to give
you the job?” Jake said.
“I don’t know what I expected, but they might give us
some advice. Perhaps their leaders are working on it.”
“It looks to me like they’ve mastered the art of the
“Anyway, I’m ready for the enticements of the canteen
now. See you later.”
He returned after an hour with a packet of Nora’s
culinary creations and a copy of The Daily Mail,
slouched in his chair and put his feet back on his
desk. Before he reached the crossword page the Ods
replied. Kathy and Jake read in silence.
Jake said, “Call-Me-Bob needs to be told. Any
idea where he is, Colin?”
“Yes, he’s in the canteen, scoffing doughnuts and
canvassing Nora for her vote. What’s so urgent?”
“I’ll go and get him,” Kathy said.
Jake shook his head. “No, not yet. Let him enjoy his
doughnuts. He’ll lose his appetite when he’s seen
“What the hell is it?” Colin shouted.
“It’s a reply to you as well as us: no pictures, just
eight words.” He swivelled the screen towards Colin,
so he could read the message.
“We are like Ariel and we are coming.”
‘Lass unparalleled’ (William Shakespeare, Anthony
and Cleopatra, 5.2.318)
‘Such stuff as dreams are made on’ (William
Shakespeare, The Tempest, 4.1.146)